Author Archives: Tara Boland


About Tara Boland

A London based performer and theatre-maker working mainly in devised theatre and interactive performance, Tara has also worked extensively with children and young people as a workshop facilitator, director and writer and is interested in theatre for the young at heart, immersive theatre and theatre clown. She has performed at numerous venues, including BAC and The Old Vic Tunnels, and is currently training full-time in Lecoq method at the London International School of Performing Arts.

Sophie Rose - Quiet Violence - Photo by Claire Nolan

Sophie Rose: Quiet Violence

Sophie Rose - Quiet Violence - Photo by Claire Nolan‘I work silly hours just so I have something to complain about…clip on earrings…couscous…’ these are what Sophie Rose, writer and solo performer of this show, calls ‘quiet violence.’ The small atrocities that we commit against ourselves on a daily basis without ever really questioning why. She begins by greeting her audience chirpily, chatting informally and easing us into our seats. She is immediately likeable, self-deprecating, and warm, she offers a familiarity that is comforting and close.

In a fusion of spoken word, storytelling, and theatricality, Sophie Rose begins to spin a tale of her life, in a jenga box block of flats, and of her downstairs neighbour Stan, an elderly man with whom she often watches TV. He takes too much effort to make cups of tea and runs with his laces undone. She wears high heels that are too small on nights out that she doesn’t really want to be at and sleeps with a man who doesn’t text her often enough. The comforting familiarity with which Sophie Rose eases us in is mesmerising tool to sink us into uncomfortable recognition of a life full of desperate attempts to feign happiness when apathy and empty gestures are all we really feel. She talks of late nights spent sat on Facebook, wearing skinny jeans even though they don’t suit her. The camaraderie of her friends forcing themselves to go out, because they’re young and that’s what they should be doing, right?

The pacing and writing of this piece are very deft indeed, I am engaged by our solo performer throughout and although she speaks of mundanity she often slips into a poetic lyricism that lifts this tale into a beautifully painted metaphor for how pressingly depressing these everyday acts can become: ‘I wonder where he stores those thoughts in his nine to five, because I only ever hear them on a payday Friday night.’ The strength of this piece lies in its solid writing and Rose’s ability to use words that paint pictures as well as create atmosphere.

There are many funny moments; her friend looks like she’s lost weight – ‘Yeah well I’ve just done a poo and my tights are pulled up to my tits.’ The audience laugh and the lightness found gives greater depth to the darkness underneath. For this really is a tale of feeling lost, looking for some spark or meaning, carrying on with small acts of quiet violence against ourselves because we don’t want to question the status quo. The theme of modern youth-hood, played out on social media with an apathetic understanding of what we should and shouldn’t do is a truly gripping one. Sophie Rose has touched a nerve that her generation will feel acutely. She provides an engaging narrative, slips between characters and uses her own unique style of writing to open up a delicate theme that is really worth engaging with: ‘We are all the youngest we will ever be today.’ So what are we going to do?

A brilliant piece of lyrical and truthful writing performed with tenderness and charm.

Sh!t Theatre - Womens Hour

Sh!t Theatre: Women’s Hour

Sh!t Theatre - Womens HourWhite painted (in the style of classic mime) faces in gender stereotypes of male and female, Louise Mothersole and Rebecca Biscuit greet us in white shirts and ties tucked into oversized white boxers. They exude an air of confidence and frivolity, dancing to the party music thumping in Summerhall’s lecture theatre. They wait until the audience is seated and then request the technician to play their track again, they dance and chat to each other and smilingly say ‘Sorry that was just for us, we’re going to go out and come back in now.’ This fierce yet friendly, devil-may-care attitude carries us through the next hour exploring women’s image, representation, social position and sexuality.

There is no doubt that these two performers, who were Total Theatre Best Newcomers in 2013, have vast ability to craft and entertain; they sing songs in soaring harmony, play guitar and ukulele and perform various brilliant bits of succinct choreography (a firm favourite sees them dancing through poses of male dominated sexual acts). They use these old-world, vaudeville like skills to deliver weighty political punches. The premise behind this show is a cynical leer at the tokenism of Radio 4’s programme: as they sing at the top of the show ‘It’s just one hour, out of 24… for women’.

They begin with a dance to Mambo Number 5 and as each woman’s name is mentioned in the song, a name-sake female figure flashes up in digital projection behind them: deconstructing the ridiculousness of the ways women are portrayed in popular culture is their recurring theme. The projector is used to comic effect in this way throughout and an overall style of free-form cabaret and performance art develops. This medium really works for the company to throw a menagerie of ideas and images at their audience. Many facts are cited, statistics on women’s working wage and percentages of female representation at the Oscars are delivered. Quotes from female politicians and horribly airbrushed adverts are displayed for us. There is perhaps something here that slightly starts to lose me as we jump from one depressing fact to another, sing songs about shoes and undermine Miley Cyrus (a rather easy target, I begin to think). These are all terrible, horrible truths about the way that women are portrayed and the roles that we are still being asked to fulfil, but I long for some deeper response to this litany of prejudice. A glimmer of celebration, acknowledging the women in the world who are working and thriving with grit and pride, or a nod to the ways women operate within this forest of facts – the dark reality of what this can mean within the daily functioning of our lives. Perhaps it is simply a change in rhythm and build I need in order to grow some of these ideas and images and drive home their power to prompt action that the show seems clearly intended to inspire. Shocking and aggressively assertive as this piece is, and I celebrate and support that, stylistically, it falls just short of being truly transformative.

I do however, feel stimulated throughout. These performers are wonderfully skilled and incredibly watchable, and I am excited to see a company who really want to say something and aren’t afraid to use their stage to shout. It is perhaps the excitement that this prospect generates in me that leaves me feeling slightly sold short. I would urge everybody to see this show, it is important, they are speaking truths, they are fun and brilliant and I’m very glad to see feminism fighting strong on stage. Here’s to pushing it even further.

Morro and Jasp do Puberty

Morro and Jasp: Morro and Jasp do Puberty

Morro and Jasp do PubertyA toilet and a pink floor mat, a silky pillowed poof, a pink phone, and a miniature pink bin adorn the stage. If the title wasn’t enough of a giveaway, the set certainly screams teenage girl. Morro and Jasp are clown sisters whose shows have won then awards on the Canadian comedy circuit. Here in a revival of one of their early shows the big news is that Morro has just got her first period. She whispers it to an audience member whilst asking the men to cover their ears. The uncomfortable writhing ankles and twisting grimace that Morro (Amy Lee) turns out are laughingly accurate of the tomboy teenager she assumes for this role. Jasp is the older, more refined sister, with bow-tied dress and hair in buns (in contrast to Morro’s backcombed bunches). She is awaiting the blessed day to be born into womanhood with the start of her menstruation and when she discovers that her younger sister has started before her, jealousy, envy, and sisterly camaraderie ensue.

These are two endearing performers. They have good stage chemistry and the audience likes them. They portray images of teenage awkwardness and aspirations with amusing accuracy: at one point Morro privately seduces her only remaining cuddly toy and winds up with Jasp catching her humping it. They squeal and screech at each other over who’s going to answer the phone and play out the ‘hot lists’ of their school with a Barbie and Ken doll.

Both wear red noses and somewhat exaggerated and rather clinical clown costumes. This is a very theatrical, choreographed portrayal of clown, unlike contemporary (and ancient) European interpretations that favour instinctive working, thriving on the present potential of each moment and reacting to audiences, working without words often and with unique physicality. Here we have a highly scripted and choreographed show with caricatured portraits of teenage girls. Clown is a powerful and enigmatic form and perhaps here not enigmatic enough.

Although Morro and Jasp are very likeable I find it difficult to be as enamoured with the theme. Maybe a shift of focus away from the girls’ magazines, periods, lipgloss, and boys would attract a little more excitement, there are times where I find this stereotyped portrayal of a girly girl and tomboy verging on uncomfortable. The moments where I see potential to push at meatier topics seem narrowly to miss packing a punch. Pairs of pants smeared with bright red paint are pulled out of the pink bin where they have been hidden, the audience squeal but I long for a darker laugh at what they hint at as being grotesque.

Morro and Jasp are very watchable and I would happily spend much more time in their company, but the show feels out of date. The mystifying intensity of puberty offers rich pickings for play by more vulnerable, reactive clowns, but here it lacks soul.

Superbolt - Jurassic Park - Photo by Mihaela Bodlovic

Superbolt: Jurassic Park

Superbolt - Jurassic Park - Photo by Mihaela BodlovicI hear an audience member whisper ‘I can’t wait to see this’. Waves of nostalgia for the 90s waft around the buzzing auditorium. Not unlike Bootworks’ take on Terminator 2, it’s a real fondness for this film and a yearning to explore its connotations to growing up in that era that underpin international ensemble Superbolt’s approach to the show. ‘It reminded us of a time when classic films had real meaning, bringing families of all kinds together,’ they say in their programme notes. This passion and tenderness gives birth to a dazzling performance of physical skill, wit, and heartfelt emotion.

In this show, the homage is decidedly dramatic. There is a simple narrative frame: we have arrived at Lyme Regis Community Centre to commemorate the anniversary of character Madeleine Park’s death with a screening of her favourite film – Jurassic Park. Her eager son Noah (Simon Maeder), teenage daughter Jade (Maria Askew) and nerdy ex-husband Terry (Frode Gjerløw) greet us with broad west country accents. When we discover that the VHS has been misplaced from its box and a family feud is on the brink of erupting, Noah is left with no choice but to start acting the film out, encouraging his dad and sister to join in.

We are taken on a journey through the film interspersed with flashbacks of the family’s familiarly dysfunctional life story. The three performers use a magical menagerie of stage techniques, physicality and clever lighting in order to recreate recognisable moments from the film. They do so with such wit, charm and accuracy that the audience erupts into applause on several occasions. The T-rex in pursuit after the famous water-in-a-cup scene is dealt with in particular style as Jade puppeteers a backpack in place of the dinosaur’s jaws whilst being carried atop her father’s back: the image is utterly joyful. Maeder’s depiction of gamekeeper Maldoon and Richard Attenborough’s John Hammond are beyond uncanny. He is a breathtakingly likeable performer, the audience hang on his every move, a joy to behold. Gjerløw and Askew slip between characters and mime with equal ease. This company clearly enjoy working together and their energy is infectious.

The most satisfying aspect however, is the story developed by the company to frame their homage: a bereaved and broken family, trying to come to terms with who they are and how they can function. As we progressively move backwards through their memories, the performances from this cast create an amazing study of familial dynamics with such brilliant attention to detail that I am as impressed with their characterisation and emotional intent as I am with their stage skill. The audience laugh loudly and often with recognition. ‘How was school’ today?’ asks Dad. ‘I dunno, how was being a loser,’ replies surly teenage daughter. The image of the dying triceratops in the film is gently melted into the hospital room of the dying mother and a real moment of poignancy is found and transposed into a song on a ukulele. Not to make this a sickeningly sweet bit of emotional cliché is near-on impossible, but this cast have us in the palm of their hands and manage to carry us with them.

Superbolt’s members completed the two year training at the Lecoq school in Paris. The school runs an exercise in which a company must act out an epic story, usually a film, on a platform of around six foot by two foot, creating large scale images in miniature with hands and body parts, shifting perspective and drawing out scenic elements with the eyes and fingers. I have seen these done before with super-smart skill, imagination, and precision, but here Superbolt have made a show where they have used their training to serve a larger narrative, creating their own unique style. This is a mesmerisingly intelligent company with beautiful complicity and a warmth that will engulf many audiences to come. I shall be following their next moves with great excitement.

Nina Conti - In Your Face

Nina Conti: In Your Face

Nina Conti - In Your FaceNina enters without her familiar alter ego the vent puppet, Monkey. His voice is present though, and assures us that she is shit without him. This is not true but all the same we begin with the kind of belly laughs that begin to hurt by the end of the hour of mesmerising skill, wit, joy, and brilliance that ensues.

This is Conti’s improvised show, different every night depending on its audience, so we start with Monkey and Nina picking audience members out for some general chit chat, to see who might be interesting candidates to bring up on stage. ‘What do you do?’ asks Nina to a girl in the front row, ‘I’m a hairdresser,’ ‘Then why haven’t you got your fucking roots done?’ Monkey retorts at quick fire speed, audience and girl laugh loudly. The show is premised on Monkey’s role as the stream of dirty consciousness that we all hold quietly inside our heads when we are meeting people and silently judging. I begin to see the magic that makes him work as an alter ego: Nina’s ability to channel her inner tic of a voice into this disarming dummy allows us to laugh at our most pathetic, fantastic, and hilarious internal monologues, although she is perhaps gifted with a wittier monologue than most.

But Monkey isn’t the main character in this show: we are, and Conti has found an intriguing way to incorporate us to her art form. A select number from the audience are invited up on to the stage in ones and twos to don Nina’s ventriloquy masks, essentially turning them into living life sized ventriloquy puppets that Nina operates. She assesses the mask and body and creates a voice and character that never fails to astound, formed in seconds with equal parts ridiculous and genius. One pair of friends become a Shakespearean actor and a dim, sporty teenager. Nina has them compete to show off their skills, and at these points, when the audience members have to try and improvise along with Nina I can barely keep my eyes open I laugh so hard. The image of the masks are inherently funny; oversized lips and bulbous noses strapped across the face, combined with the awkward gestures and laughing shakes of the human ventriloquy puppets on stage, creating an arresting and stupidly hilarious visual treat.

There are of course sections where Monkey returns, at one point to play guitar, at another to hypnotise Nina into a sleep trance while he talks to us, some of this fails to fly, but as Monkey is allowed to acknowledge this, Conti can reclaim even those moments that aren’t entirely working. Her energy, charm and talent are beguiling, seemingly oozing cool confidence and handling her craft with complete artistry. She has adapted and updated an unfashionable form of stage-craft with such unique style and intelligence that it sings with life and relevance. Conti makes the art of being silly entirely smart, wondrous and life affirming.